When launching a new business, one of your first priorities should be to secure the appropriate legal protection for your company’s intellectual property (IP). Depending on the type of IP involved, this can require securing patents, trademarks, and/or copyrights.
Among the very first IP elements you’ll want to protect is your company’s brand name and logo. This is done by registering for trademarks with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO).
Since you’re just getting your company up and running, you probably won’t have a huge budget to spend on protecting your IP, so you’ll most likely want to find a reasonably priced trademark registration service. But with so many different trademark services out there, it can be challenging to tell the legit operations from the not-so-legit. And as with all types of DIY legal services you find online, you should approach web-based trademark registration services with extreme caution.
On that note, in this two-part series, we’ll discuss four warning signs to watch for when choosing a trademark registration service. Although we recommend that you always work with an experienced business lawyer like us to register your company’s trademarks and other IP protections, if you do choose to take the DIY route, here are a few of the red flags you should watch for.
Warning Sign #1: The price is too low
Do a Google search for “low cost trademark registration,” and you’ll find hundreds of services to choose from, with prices starting as low as $49 and running all the up to $500+. If everyone is basically offering the same service, why do the rates they charge vary so dramatically?
To answer this question, you must first understand a bit about how trademark registration works. By knowing what the trademark registration process entails, you’ll be much better positioned to spot those deals that are simply too good to be true.
Successfully registering a trademark with the USPTO is not a super quick or easy process. Indeed, securing a trademark for your brand involves a number of detailed steps. And from start to finish, the entire procedure can take up to a year or more to complete.
A basic summary of the trademark registration process includes the following steps:
- searching to confirm the sought-after brand is trademarkable
- drafting the trademark application
- filing the application
- formal examination by USPTO
- opposition period
If your trademark isn’t properly filed, it can be rejected at any stage during this process. In fact, 68% of all trademark applications are initially rejected during the formal examination stage. And for those applications filed without the support of a lawyer, the rejection rate increases to 81%.
When the USPTO rejects a trademark application, the applicant receives a letter explaining the reasons for refusal known as an “office action.” It’s possible to receive multiple office actions over the course of the entire trademark process. While some office actions are simple and only take an hour or two to respond to, responding to more complex actions can take even experienced trademark lawyers upwards of 20 hours or more.
Given that the average hourly rate of trademark attorneys runs between $300 to $500, do you really believe that your application is going to be carefully reviewed by an experienced lawyer when you paid $49, $175, or even $300?
At those prices, the chances of a lawyer even glancing at your application—much less spending any time actually correcting it—is close to zero. Instead, at those prices, you’d most likely get a service that requires you to fill out a form on its website, and it automatically formats the data you provided in the form to fit the government application, which it then files on your behalf.
In such cases, you would not have an attorney of record or a registered trademark agent handling your application—you’d be representing yourself. And as with any legal matter, representing yourself is a huge gamble. That said, if your application just happens to be straightforward enough to make it through all of those stages and get approved without any office actions being filed, you’ve definitely hit the jackpot!
While it is possible to secure a trademark without a lawyer’s assistance, your chances of success are quite low. As mentioned earlier, only 19% of trademark applications filed by individuals without legal representation are successfully approved without any additional modification. The other 81% get rejected—unless the appropriate actions are taken to fix them.
Problem is, without any legal knowledge or experience, it’s highly unlikely you’d be able to fix your application on your own, and would need to pay a lawyer $300 to $500 per hour—on top of what you already paid—to help you get it right. If those odds sound good to you, by all means go ahead and test your luck.
However, if you aren’t much into gambling, you should view the bottom-of-the-barrel prices as a big warning sign, and reach out to us instead. Although we charge significantly more than $49, when you hire us as your Family Business Lawyer™ to file your trademark application, you’ll be paying a flat fee that covers the entire process, from the initial brand search all the way to final registration, with no billable hours, hidden fees, or nasty surprises.
Warning Sign #2: “Get Your Trademark Today” “File In Only 10 Minutes”
As we mentioned last week, the entire process to register your trademark often takes many months and sometimes over a year to complete. So if you see a service promising to trademark your brand in mere minutes or even that same day, that’s a big red flag.
In those cases, what you are paying for is likely just an automated filing company that takes the information you supplied in the online application, formats it to fit the USPTO registration form, and then files it on your behalf. What they fail to mention is that by filing your mark in such an expedited manner, they are failing to provide you with several of the most important steps in the trademark registration process.
For example, using such services it’s highly unlikely that anyone is conducting the necessary searches to make certain that the brand or mark you’re filing would even qualify to be registered. Moreover, it’s almost certain that no one is taking the time to determine if your trademark would effectively protect the particular goods or services you provide.
Sure, it’s possible that your application is being filed in such a short period of time, but if that’s all you’re getting for your money, you could have almost as easily as done that on your own without any assistance using the USPTO website.
To maximize the chances of your application being approved, you need the support of an attorney with experience in intellectual property law. He or she can analyze the specific needs of your business, evaluate whether or not your chosen brand is suitable to be registered, and then properly draft your application with enough accuracy to survive the scrutiny of the USPTO at every stage of the process. And this is something that simply cannot be done in just a matter of minutes.
Warning Sign #3: “100% Money Back Guarantee” “100% Satisfaction Guaranteed”
Although offering you a “guarantee” may sound attractive, these slogans are actually nothing more than empty words. Such terminology is employed to take advantage of your lack of education about how the trademarking process works to make you think they’re offering you a more comprehensive service than what they actually provide.
Once again, the vast majority of companies that use such phrases are merely auto-filling your trademark application and filing it on your behalf—and nothing more. Once your application is filed, they’ve fulfilled their obligation to you.
In other words, these companies are merely guaranteeing that they will “file” your trademark application, not promising your application will get approved. Unless the online service you are using somehow fails to file your application with the USPTO, good luck getting your money back.
Indeed, no one can actually guarantee that your trademark will be approved. Some online trademark registration services will offer what’s known as a “re-filing guarantee.” But all that means is that if your trademark application is rejected, you are able to file another application with the company, sometimes at a discount.
Yet no matter how many times they allow you to refile, unless you have an attorney shepherding your application through the entire process, the chances of your application getting approved are quite low.
Warning Sign #4: “Attorney-Reviewed” “Attorney-Led” “Attorney-Supported”
It’s common sense that having an attorney’s guidance when registering your trademark is better than doing it all on your own. To this end, some trademark services will use these phrases to reassure you that there will, in fact, be an attorney involved in your trademark application process.
While such services will most likely be more extensive—and maybe even slightly more successful—than those that simply auto-file your application, unless you actually have an attorney of record representing you in the entire process, you are not getting the legal support you need.
When using such services, an attorney will typically review your application, and one may even consult with you about your application. But outside a minimal level of assistance on the front end, you are going to be all on your own once your application is filed—which includes the vast majority of the process.
Without an attorney of record representing you, you must keep track of all the deadlines, respond to all office actions, and manage all oppositions and cancellations completely by yourself. And since you aren’t qualified to handle these often tasks on your own, you’d be forced to pay a lawyer $300-$500 an hour—on top of what you already shelled out—to fix your application if any issues arise.
Instead, you’d be much better off by simply hiring an experienced trademark lawyer from the very start, rather than rolling the dice with such bare-bones online services and hoping your application doesn’t hit any snags.
Services that go beyond just registration
To save yourself the time, money, and hassle, we recommend you always work with an experienced lawyer to support and advise you throughout the registration process. That said, if you do decide to take the DIY route, at least now you know some of the warning signs to watch for, so you can hopefully reduce your chances of getting scammed.
Finally, when it comes to protecting your company’s intellectual property, filing for trademarks and copyrights are just the start. Once you have these protections in place, you’ll need to take additional steps to ensure your trademarks and copyrights aren’t infringed upon—and that’s something you’ll need a lawyer’s help with, as well.
With us as your Family Business Lawyer™, we can not only support and advise you step-by-step through the process of registering your brand, we can also help you enforce your ownership rights should your IP ever be infringed upon. Contact us today to get started.
This article is a service of Stafford Law Firm. We offer a complete spectrum of legal services for businesses and can help you make the wisest choices on how to deal with your business throughout life and in the event of your death. We also offer a LIFT Start-Up Session™ or a LIFT Audit for an ongoing business, which includes a review of all the legal, financial, and tax systems you need for your business. Call us today to schedule.